I just wanted to introduce myself as the latest addition to Aulelia’s ever expanding blog. I am a 25 y/o graduate student living in the United States. When I am not toiling away at the lab bench, I love watching movies. It provides such a nice escape away from everything in my rather mundane life. I am a little more than slightly obsessed with the Academy Awards, partially because I love the movies, but mostly because I cherish competition and upsets (unfortunately the Academy isn’t big on upsets).
I will be writing a column on this blog every other week. I don’t plan on writing simple thumbs up or thumbs down reviews. I very rarely love a movie wholeheartedly or hate everything about it and my opinions frequently change over time after the movie has had some time to marinate in my mind. I do plan on writing what you will hopefully find to be discussion-sparking short essays on film. If you have suggestions or requests for future column topics, I am eager to hear them. For this week, I will be writing on The Blind Side, which was released back in November in the States but is just now getting a wider international release.
The Blind Side (2009)
It is amazing what the words “Based on a true story” can do to change the ideologies of a movie. Had this been a fictionalized tale penned by a Hollywood writer, the story would have racism written all over it, sending the indirect message that black children with bad biological parents can and even need to be saved by wealthy white people. However, this rather charming story about Leigh Anne Tuohy, a Mississippi cheerleader turned interior decorator, makes you forget all that gibberish about white man’s burden and embrace the possibility that some people can be generous without being motivated by guilt.
The director, John Lee Hancock, must have foreseen these criticisms, because he addresses the issues of racism head-on. Tuohy’s elite lunching club provides the appropriate foil to ask what the audience is thinking: “Is this a charity case?” Perhaps the screenplay has more depth than it is given credit for or perhaps Sandra Bullock truly did earn her Oscar for capturing the essence and energy of Tuohy; either way, in a few short sentences, Tuohy not only denies that adopting Michael “Big Mike” Oher is for charity, but makes the other women at lunch and the audience by proxy feel sheepish for even thinking such a possibility. All the while, she retains her humility. In the sound clip that surely swayed more than one Academy member, one of Tuohy’s lunch buddies says “Your’re changing that boy’s life.” To which Tuohy replies “No, he’s changing mine.” The line is schmaltzy, but nonetheless, it works.
Towards the end of the film, Tuohy’s motivations are once again called into question, problematically in a forum in which Tuohy is unable to use her Erin Brockovich-esque charismatic gall to defend herself. She does, however, get her validation by an alternate method, one that you will have to watch the movie to appreciate. Speaking of Tuohy’s Erin Brockovich-esque drive, Bullock did a fantastic (albeit long) interview with Charlie Rose wherein she describes her meeting with the real-life Tuohy and her motivations. Briefly, she describes Tuohy as a woman who knows what her vision of the world is and knows how to achieve it. She cares very little whether others, including her husband at one point in the movie, share her vision or how others may perceive her actions. Certainly, a strong female is a force of nature, but Bullock almost suggests an air of arrogance to Tuohy’s persona during the Charlie Rose interview. Despite what she said during this interview, on screen she plays Tuohy as sassy, direct, fiercely maternal, but never arrogant.
Hancock takes an easily controversial and potentially polarizing theme and makes it palatable for Middle America and for casual filmgoers worldwide. It is not a critical darling, but it never pretends to be. It may not have ambiguous messages like Up in the Air, the tense drama within The Hurt Locker, ground-breaking special effects as in District 9 or Avatar, or the harsh brutality of Precious, but it has the magic to win over the average person. And just as Leigh Anne Tuohy needed no ulterior motive to adopt a boy who needed her, this film needs no hidden agenda to appeal to the crowds.
Questions for discussion:
– Was Tuohy right to take Oher in as her own son? Was she impeding on someone else’s maternal rights? Did Oher’s biological mother relinquish her maternal rights?
– Is it possible to tell a story where wealthy white people help poor black people without coming off racist?
– In a field that included strong star-making performances out of Carey Mulligan and Gabourey Sidibe as well as another consistently brilliant performance by Meryl Streep, did Sandra Bullock deserve this Oscar?